Gay NBA Center Jason Collins Comes Out
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. I’m gay.” With these words, Washington Wizards center Jason Collins opens his groundbreaking May 6 Sports Illustrated essay on coming out as an active, major-league athlete.
By Nathan James
Collins, whose career spans a dozen years of NBA play, says, “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.” Major-league sports have long been seen as closed to LGBT players, especially make athletes, but media anticipation of a coming-out announcement by a player has been keen in recent months, with several players from the NFL, NBA, and NHL, voicing opinions on both sides of the issue.
“We are proud that Jason Collins has assumed the mantle of leadership on this very important issue,” NBA Commissioner David Stern observed. The SI cover story on Collins, instead of a team or league press conference, was written entirely by the athlete, is “historic in its implications,” says Outsports editor Cyd Ziegler. Coming out is a liberating experience, Collins reflects. “Now, I’m a free agent, literally and figuratively.”
The history of gay athletes in pro sports until today has been one of hiding, of remaining closeted for the sake of one’s career. Players such as the NFL’s wade Davis acknowledged their sexuality only after retirement, when contracts or endorsement deals were no longer at issue. These athletes struggled to excel in a hypermasculine environment, while guarding their true orientation very carefully.
Collins himself acknowledges the obstacles to coming out. “No one wants to live in fear,” he states, “I’ve endured years of misery and gone to great lengths to live a lie. But a lot of players will be shocked: ‘That guy is gay?’” The Washington Wizards have yet to issue a statement on Collins, who goes into free agency this summer, and is said to be interested in returning to the Nets, now playing in Brooklyn, with whom he began his award-winning career.
“In the brotherhood of the NBA,” Collins closes, “I just happen to be the one that’s gay.”